ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - Commenting on recent killings by Islamist terrorists at a Paris newspaper, Pope Francis condemned killing in the name of God, but said freedom of expression should be limited by respect for religion and that mockery of faith can be expected to provoke violence.

Published in International
January 2, 2015

Move forward in Cuba

Following half a century of hostility, and guided by the intervention of Pope Francis, the United States and Cuba have agreed to try to become good neighbours. The detente announced between the two nations on Dec. 17 is welcomed news to end a year that witnessed too much hatred.

Published in Editorial

OTTAWA - The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario's draft human rights policy would trample religious freedom and freedom of conscience, say groups defending those rights.

Published in Canada

VATICAN CITY - A top Vatican official emphasized religious freedom worldwide and a peaceful solution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine as urgent priorities for Europe's main security organization.

Published in International

Canada has been rated a country “of concern” in the latest “Religious Freedom in the World” report issued by the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need. 

Published in Canada

VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis condemned the "absurd violence" being used against Christians in several countries and called on people of good will everywhere to take up the cause of religious freedom.

Published in Vatican

MANCHESTER, England - Scotland's archbishops have encouraged Catholics to vote in the forthcoming referendum on independence — and to pay attention to the issue of religious freedom.

Published in International
August 7, 2014

Defend integrity

Doctors hold a favoured place in society because they are seen as models of compassion and integrity. They are admired as healers and moral leaders, virtuous people, widely respected. If you can’t trust your doctor, who can you trust? 

Published in Editorial

VATICAN CITY - Members of the Synod of Bishops recommended the Vatican establish a commission to monitor religious freedom, develop guidelines for training evangelizers and ensure there is a church in every diocese where confession is always available.

At the end of the three-week world Synod of Bishops on new evangelization, members of the gathering approved 58 propositions to give to the pope; although synod rules say the proposals are secret, Pope Benedict authorized their publication Oct. 27.

The propositions were designed as recommendations for the pope to use in a post-synodal apostolic exhortation. Many of the propositions described current challenges and opportunities that the church faces in sharing the Gospel, strengthening the faith and reaching out to lapsed Catholics.

Other propositions asked Pope Benedict or individual bishops to consider undertaking concrete projects, including:

-- Establishing a Vatican commission to monitor religious freedom around the world, denounce attacks on religious freedom and promote a broader understanding of its importance as a basic human right.

The propositions said, "The proclamation of the good news in different contexts of the world -- marked by the process of globalization and secularism -- places different challenges before the church: at times in outright religious persecution, at other times in a widespread indifference, interference, restriction or harassment."

During the synod discussions, bishops in different parts of the world described different relationships with Muslim neighbors, ranging from situations in which Christian minorities experience serious discrimination to cases of Catholics and Muslims working together to address social problems.

The synod propositions encouraged Catholics "to persevere and to intensify their relations with Muslims" in accordance with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council.

-- Developing a "pastoral plan of initial proclamation" that would outline steps to help ensure that once people hear the Gospel, they are led to conversion and faith and are educated in church teaching. It also should describe the "qualities and guidelines for the formation of Catholic evangelizers today."

-- Asking that every diocese establish a parish or shrine dedicated "in a permanent way" to the administration of the sacrament of penance, ensuring "priests are always present, allowing God's mercy to be experienced by all the faithful."

"The sacrament of penance and reconciliation is the privileged place to receive God's mercy and forgiveness," it is a place of healing and strength, and it is the sacrament that can bring people back into full communion with the church, the synod members said.

As they did in the synod hall, synod members used several propositions to emphasize the importance of the family as the place where life and love are first given, where people are introduced to the faith and where they learn to live according to Gospel values.

The church's new evangelization efforts must help strengthen families and must try "to address significant pastoral problems around marriage: the case of divorced and remarried (Catholics), the situation of their children, the fate of abandoned spouses, the couples who live together without marriage and the trend in society to redefine marriage," synod members said.

Recognizing an increase in secularism around the world, synod members said that in many ways Christians are living "in a situation similar to that of the first Christians," who were small minorities in cultures indifferent or even hostile to Christianity.

Still, synod members said, "the world is God's creation and manifests his love." Even if Christians are just a little flock, they are called to "bear witness to the Gospel message of salvation" and "to be salt and light of a new world."

The propositions emphasized that while the primary task of the church is to bring people to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, a relationship lived and nourished in the church, part of reaching out to others and witnessing to the Gospel involves serving the poor and sick, working for justice and protecting the environment.

Synod members praised the members of religious orders, who have been on the frontlines of evangelization for centuries, as well as the activities of new movements and communities. But they stressed the importance of all members of a diocese coordinating their work with the local bishop, and they insisted on the key role of parishes as the places where most Catholics learn about and practice their faith.

The propositions included a suggestion that parish priests or other designated parish staff visit families in the parish as part of their outreach.

The propositions described the liturgy as "the primary and most powerful expression of the new evangelization" and a manifestation of God's love for humanity.

"Evangelization in the church calls for a liturgy that lifts the hearts of men and women to God," synod members said.

During synod discussions, several bishops spoke about the importance of the church learning the particular language and culture of social media and new technology to share the Gospel with people who increasingly spend their time online.

In the propositions, they said Catholics should be trained "to transmit faithfully the content of the faith and of Christian morality" through the media, but they insisted that no technical talent or online presence could take the place of "the testimony of life" lived in accordance with the Gospel.

Synod members described young Catholics not primarily as objects of evangelization, but as evangelizers, especially of their peers.

"As the media greatly influence the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being of the youth," they said, "the church through catechesis and youth ministry strives to enable and equip them to discern between good and evil, to choose Gospel values over worldly values, and to form firm faith convictions."

Published in International

On the Fourth of July, the Catholic Church in the United States turned toward Washington, not for the fireworks, nor for a windy speech from the president, but for the conclusion of what the American bishops declared to be a Fortnight for Freedom.

I followed it rather more closely than most, since I was appointed last year a consultant to the American bishops Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. Alarmed at encroachments on religious liberty at home, and escalating violence against Christians abroad, the ad hoc committee of senior bishops proposed a special fortnight of prayer, fasting, catechesis and public action in defense of religious liberty. Summoning forth “all the energies the Catholic community can muster,” the fortnight was a dramatic appeal to Americans — both Catholic and otherwise — to realize that their “first, most cherished liberty” is under sustained and serious attack.

Published in Fr. Raymond de Souza

WASHINGTON - In prayerful celebration, more than 2,000 Catholics from all regions of the Archdiocese of Washington gathered June 24 as part of the local church's "fortnight for freedom" campaign in support of the United States' "first and most cherished freedom" -- religious liberty.

The U.S. bishops dedicated June 21 to July 4 as days to encourage Catholics nationwide to focus on prayer, education and action in defense of religious freedom.

For the rally, held at George Washington University's Smith Center, Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington was joined by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, Washington Auxiliary Bishop Barry C. Knestout, and dozens of priests, religious sisters and laity.

The event, which included prayers, patriotic and religious hymns, as well as videos highlighting the nation's strong Catholic heritage, concluded with solemn Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.

Speaking about the election of Blessed John Paul II as pope, Cardinal Wuerl recalled when he celebrated his first public Mass, the new pontiff called upon the faithful to open wide their hearts to Christ, to put aside fear and "be not afraid."

"The challenge, 'Be not afraid,' should move us to engage our culture, our neighbors, our family and our friends," said Cardinal Wuerl. "The call is not just for priests to preach, but for the laity to respond. The response is threefold: prayer, education and action. The most important is prayer."

Throughout the service, the more than 50-member St. Augustine Parish Choir led the congregation in rousing renditions of some of the country's most beloved anthems, "My Country 'Tis of Thee" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," as well religious hymns such as "I've Come This Far By Faith." Other hymns were led by the Schola of the Blessed John Paul II Seminary and the Sister Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara.

Videos highlighted the Catholic Church's deep roots of religious freedom, its history and impact in the United States from the nation's earliest days to the present.

A range of stirring images were seen, from American Catholic saints and heroes -- such as Archbishop John Carroll and St. Katharine Drexel -- to the waves of immigrants who built the nation to the 18th- and 19th-century anti-Catholic sentiment, to Catholics defending freedom in wars, to the church's staunch support of the civil rights movement, and concluding with the Catholic Church's present-day vital service in hospitals, schools and charities.

Father William Byrne, pastor of St. Peter Parish on Capitol Hill and archdiocesan secretary for pastoral ministry and social concerns, was master of ceremonies.

"We have much to celebrate. We celebrate that we live in a great country, a great land," he said. "We celebrate the vital contributions we've made and a call to faithful citizenship. We are proud to be Americans and faithful Catholics."

Father Byrne also praised the work of women religious, who, throughout American history, have been the "hands and heart of Christ, serving the poorest of the poor," founding thousands of hospitals and schools all over the nation.

"We serve others not because they are Catholic, but because we are Catholic," said the priest.

At the conclusion of his address and prior to Benediction, Cardinal Wuerl said, "In the presence of our Lord, we will kneel. There is a time to be on one's knees. There is also a time when we need to stand -- to stand up. Today there are things that should mean enough to all of us, including our religious liberty, that we simply need to stand -- to stand up for what is right, to stand up for what is ours, to stand up for freedom of religion."

During the 90-minute rally, Catholics -- from elderly to young children -- listened intently, applauded and gave standing ovations in support of the church, the clergy, women religious and audience members who served in the armed forces.

Attendees interviewed by the Catholic Standard, Washington archdiocesan newspaper, said they appreciated the cardinal's message and his leadership. They also said they believe religious liberty in America is at stake at this moment in time and Catholics must speak out in its defense.

"Young people really do care about this issue. It's what our country was founded on," said Harlan Friddle, a University of Maryland student who came to the rally with about 15 of his classmates. "It's important because we shape the future and we have to teach our children what (religious freedom) means."

Charles Luckett, a third-year seminarian at The Catholic University of America's Theological College, said, "Our religious freedom is very important and is something that has been eroding for years. If we don't take a stand now, it will continue to collapse."

"This is a wonderful opportunity to be witnesses for our faith," said Patricia Kisicki, a parishioner at St. Patrick Parish in Rockville, Md. "It is very worrisome to think we could lose our freedom of religion."

Mary Beller, a parishioner of St. Bernadette Parish in Silver Spring, Md., said, "Our religious freedom means everything to us. This is what our mothers and fathers came to this country for and we need to preserve it for our children. We have to be united in this cause."

The closing Mass for the "fortnight for freedom" will be celebrated July 4 at 12:10 p.m. at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The main celebrant will be Cardinal Wuerl and the homilist will be Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia.

Published in International

Rarely is St. Thomas Aquinas a hot topic. The 13th century Angelic Doctor has been out of the news for some time.

But when Canada’s bishops recently issued a pastoral letter to remind “men and women of good will” about the centrality of conscience to the very idea of freedom, they were channelling St. Thomas via two of the Second Vatican Council’s most important declarations — Gaudium et Spes and Dignitatis Humanae.

Issued on May 14, the bishops Pastoral Letter on Freedom of Conscience and Religion defends the right of religious freedom and expression in the public square while affirming the right of conscience and conscientious objection. It urges believers to never compromise their faith “even if they must suffer for it.”

Published in Features

WASHINGTON - As Egyptians began voting to replace ousted President Hosni Mubarak, Christian minorities were anxious to see if the next government would end restrictions on religious freedom and attacks on religious minorities that had been on the rise the past couple of years.

Egypt was one of 16 countries that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom singled out for particular concern in its 2012 annual report, released in March. Egypt made the list for the second year in a row.

"Over the past year, the Egyptian transitional government continued to engage in and tolerate systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief," the report said.

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM TROUBLE SPOTS The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom report lists governments that have engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom, according to the latest report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Published in International

WASHINGTON - Speaking to a standing-room-only crowd of young adults, Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl encouraged them to pray and stand up for religious freedom.

Such freedom is being threatened, he said, by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' mandate that would force Catholic institutions to provide employee health insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives and sterilization procedures, all of which are morally opposed by the Catholic Church.

Published in International

OTTAWA - Canada's Catholic bishops have published a defense of freedom of conscience and religious freedom as these universal rights come under increasing threat around the world.

The Catholic community and other religious groups are "experiencing a worrisome erosion" of these freedoms, said Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops president Archbishop Richard Smith in an open letter introducing the "Pastoral Letter on Freedom of Conscience and Religious freedom" published May 14 at www.cccb.ca.

(Right-click and save-as to download the letter as a PDF)

Published in Canada